Thursday, April 16, 2009


Wishing you a glorious, shimmering Easter. Stunned by God’s love, I, too, cry out, Rabboni!
As the financial crisis creeps worldwide and economic depression touches people’s lives in the most personal way, the subject of happiness is frequently studied by experts, by psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists mostly. What does it really take to make one happy?

Early last year, just before the economic crunch badly crunched us all, there was much ado about new research findings that challenged the long-held Easterlin Paradox—that happiness does not necessarily increase with income. That is, after a point of satiation has been achieved. The newer research findings from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business showed “a clear positive link” between wealth and “subjective well-being” based on global surveys.

They showed that the facts about income and happiness turned out to be much simpler than first realized. Namely:1) rich people are happier than poor people. 2) richer countries are happier than poor countries, 3)as countries get richer they tend to be happier. But of course! I commented then. Does poverty make anyone happy? It does for those who choose and embrace evangelical poverty and give up material possessions in exchange for a life of simplicity. But that is another story.

A Filipino professor responded to that column piece and sent me her own research findings that showed that the Easterlin Paradox still applied to Filipinos. We published her findings on the front page. I felt relieved that, yes, comparatively speaking, we are indeed a happy people.

Since then, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been flying home in droves because of factory shut-downs abroad. Just last October I featured a foreign-owned factory in Bulacan that continued giving employment to 700 workers (down from 1,500 because some operations were moved to China). Last week I got word that it’s going to cease operations. That’s something to be unhappy about.

I bring these up because a noted Filipino psychiatrist, now based in New Zealand, has been doing studies on happiness and helping people to have happier lives. I sat in one of his lectures and also had a one-on-one interview with him.

Dr. Antonio Fernando, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences in the University of Auckland, was here recently to experience culture and nature and to also share his expertise with varied audiences. An expert in the field of positive psychology, Fernando pointed out that in the past, a lot of studies were done on what made people miserable, sick, unhappy, depressed. But now studies are being done on what makes people happy—short-term, long-term.

So, can happiness be taught or learned? All of us, even animals, desire happiness. Happiness could mean feeling good, seeing life as wonderful, having a feeling of subjective well-being (SWB). Is pursuing happiness a selfish activity? Not necessarily, Fernando said, if you are pursuing genuine happiness. There are ways to measure a person’s degree of happiness. There is the use of questionnaires but technology has gone a step further. Neuro-imaging of the brain is one way.

The great thing about Fernando’s lecture was that while he used many new scientific terms, he could make himself understandable to the non-scientists. He cited studies on lotto winners that showed that while their brains showed increased happiness, this state was not something that would remain elevated. It takes more than just a lotto jackpot to make a person genuinely happy. Note the word genuinely.

But to avoid oversimplifying by repeating here what Fernando has taken up in his lectures, why don’t I just invite you to the CALM (Computer Assisted Leaning for the Mind) website ( which Fernando and two colleagues have set up. It is a how-to site where one can follow step-by-step techniques, listen to audiofiles or check out related links. Very easy to navigate.

Years ago I wrote a story about a support group of people suffering from bipolar disorder and depression. I got hundreds of text messages from persons (some suicidal) screaming for help. This CALM website could offer not just relief but a road out as well.

The CALM website starts off: “All of us want to have a happy life. No one wakes up in the morning thinking, ‘I hope I will be miserable today.’ Many of us think that happiness is dependent on external situations like possessions, status and pleasures. Though these things can be good, often the satisfaction they bring is short term.” It goes on to say that there are three things that contribute to genuine happiness: mental resilience, healthy relationships and finding meaning in life.

The economic crisis sure gets in the way--and in a big way for many--but that does not spell the end of the world. In the meantime, one has to learn to go beyond coping. What makes the difference is the mindset.

Genuine happiness, the lasting variety, that is, can be cultivated by training for a healthy mind. Among the skills that need constant exercise would be: gratitude, loving kindness and compassion and living in the moment mindfully. The CALM website has audio files (some by Fernando) that could be downloaded. They help you develop positive mind states.

Check out the CALM website and learn to be happy in these critical times.

Natural farming seminar: I am happy because a good number who had read about the Balanced Ecosystem Technologies (BEST) seminar which tackles sustainable agriculture and other natural means have gone to attend. Those who couldn’t make it this week, contact Susi Foundation (0917-4717575, 042-5456359,